TV review: The Mating Game (Fri, BBC2), David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy (Sat, BBC2)

 

The course of true love might rarely run smooth for us humans, but The Mating Game proved that for those struggling with singledom in the animal kingdom, it can be even tougher.

It really was a jungle out there for the African antelopes risking their lives for love or for the wolves locking on to each other for a full 30 minutes while coupling, unable to extract themselves even when a “quickie” would have been far more convenient. In the wrong hands, this hour-long show could have been embarrassingly graphic. Mercifully, we rarely saw animals actually engaging in the act. Narrated by David Attenborough, this focused on the politics and power play of mating for myriad animals.

At times, it was hard not to anthropomorphise their behaviour and have a good old hearty laugh at the, well, humanness of their rituals (or perhaps at the animalness of our own). The six-plumed bird of paradise that trotted out his fancy feather-fluffing dance looked like the John Travolta of his world, while the topis that picked fights with rivals as the females stood watching could have been competing lovers in an EastEnders pub punch-up. The bird of paradise and his floor show was particularly amusing. In the preamble to the main spectacle, he cleared his dance floor with a little duster and sprinkled it with berries to lure in the ladies, like a cheesy romancer sprinkling the bed with flower petals or clutching a rose between his teeth. The female bird had no time for it. She nicked his duster and flew off before he hit the floor.

The visual marvels of mating rituals were set against just the right amount of “knowing” schmaltz: a kitsch soundtrack flipped on every time a courtship got underway, so we chuckled as polar bears cutely chased one another in  flirtation against romantic piano music. But they were also utterly thrilling to watch as they roamed in the pure white expanse of snow and slid down powdery verges. A shimmering ocean of flamingos in Tanzania, meanwhile, appeared to be holding a gigantic singles’ convention in which they mirrored each other’s body language in the hope  of bumping into “The One”. None of the comic absurdity took away from the documentary’s serious intent. “Courtship,” Attenborough told us, “is one of the few times that adult animals play together.” It is also one of the times it leads them to sing, dance, spray body fluids like perfume (lemurs seemed particularly partial) and generally show off. But at its most dangerous, the competition to mate also led to territorial aggression and fighting.

What became apparent was that, in the main, males did the strutting and females did the selecting, though there were some chasers among the latter, notably a mountain gorilla who gave the male silverback a meaningful gaze to advertise her availability. Some species stayed loyal, even waiting by their dead mates for days, such as the Australian shingleback lizard, while others were more “flexible” in their affiliations. Who said relationships were ever simple...

David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy shone a light on another kind of love: that between British monarchs and their choirs. Music, Starkey explained in large, dramatic tones, was not only a devotional expression that brought man closer to God but was wrapped up in the “politics of splendour”, and drew its own sectarian dividing lines. Henry V took a mobile choir to Agincourt as a form of musical prayer, while later, Henry VIII’s split from Catholicism led to a Protestant choral aesthetic that eschewed musical complexity in favour of the spoken word. Occasionally, a music bod came on to explain technical things like medieval polyphony (five parts, followed by eight parts), but the focus switched back to Starkey’s history, and to the heavenly sounds of the songs. Edifying stuff, though you couldn’t help but feel that the more perfect medium for this might have been radio.

twitter.com/ArifaAkbar

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all